Tag: exploring (Page 1 of 2)

Fourth of July Fireworks in NYC (How to Not Lose Your Mind, Save Money & Actually Have a Good Time)

Just like the Thanksgiving Parade, Macy’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show in New York City are, as you might have guessed, kind of a big deal. And definitely something worth seeing at least once in your lifetime, in my humble opinion. But Katie, you ask me, with eight million (in 2017) New York City residents and roughly 65 MILLION tourists a year, how am I even going to see the dang things?

Well, for one, most of the locals don’t seem to want to battle traffic, crowds and tourists. So that just leaves… you to do it. But, if you consider some of my tips I’m about to lay out here, I think you’ll have an easier time navigating the hubbub and will actually – gasp – HAVE A GOOD  TIME.

 

Tips for a Fun Fourth Fireworks Experience

  1. It’s freeeeeeeeeeeeeee. That is, if you go to the fireworks viewing stations that are laid out specifically for the event. (Plenty of hotels and other venues were offering rooftop views for $$$.)
  2. Speaking of viewing stations, if the event for the year is on the East River or centered on the Brooklyn Bridge (like this year’s) and they have stations on Manhattan side and Brooklyn – PICK BROOKLYN. Pros for the Brooklyn view based on our experience:
    1. Brooklyn Bridge Park had multiple piers to view the fireworks so it was never too crowded.
    2. It’s a park! Easier to keep the kids occupied when there’s space to run around and basketball courts to play on.
    3. There are actually places to sit. Turf on the ground, benches, tables, etc.
    4. Last but not least, there are BATHROOMS. I mean, nothing fancy,  just port-a-potties, but at least it’s something. Complaints from relatives who were on the Manhattan side was that there wasn’t an easily accessible bathroom anywhere.
  3. Continuing the pro-Brooklyn for fireworks viewing thread, you can get there pretty easily by subway. It’ll be much cheaper and faster than attempting to rideshare, especially with traffic.
  4. When they say get there at least a couple hours before show time, they mean it. You’ll get a better seat if you get there early, plus when the pier stations started reaching capacity, they started closing off the entrances for safety reasons. IMPORTANT NOTE: They are SUPER serious about safety, so if police/security has closed off an entrance and you’re thinking about leaving an area, check with them to make sure you can get back in. 
  5. I’m sure you already know this, but it bears repeating – cell service can (and DID) get spotty when there’s crowds around so always know where your people are at and stick together!

Things to Bring (Or Wear)

Keeping in mind that they did a quick bag check when we were walking to Brooklyn Bridge Park, I think I still would have wanted to come a little better prepared with  the things below.

  1. Food! Double check what’s allowed at the viewing stations (I just searched for the event at Brooklyn Bridge Park on the Googs and found a super helpful guide), but it seems like most food and drink is welcome EXCEPT for alcohol. Some people brought snacks, some families made a huge event of it complete with serving trays, coffee carafes, etc. There also are usually a bunch of vendors outside the area selling food and beverages.
  2. Something to sit on! People brought chairs and blankets to relax on, or even a jacket will do.
  3. Games! Maybe a deck of cards to help pass the time before the show starts.
  4. Comfy clothes and shoes. It’s July – so most likely, it’s going to be humid during the day. And if you’ve chosen to take the train and walk to the viewing stations, you’ll want to do so in comfort.

Why I Enjoyed the Show (And Am Pushing the Brooklyn Side So Hard)

Despite my hesitation and worries about how difficult it might be to see the fireworks, it was actually a wonderful time. Getting to Brooklyn Bridge Park was easy and so was getting swept up in all the excitement. Kids ran around laughing with their friends and waved at helicopters flying by. People ‘ooh-ed’ and ‘ahh-ed’ at the FDNY boats spraying red, white and blue water streams for their hoses. Everyone settled in close to showtime as breezy air from the water cooled down the area. Then, the Brooklyn Bridge lit up in a shower of pyrotechnic sparks signaling the start of the show with huge barges now launching huge bursts of color into the NYC skyline.

Anyway, you don’t have to take my word for it. Try it for yourself! But keep these tips in mind so you can stress less.

See ya next time travelers!
Katie

In Case You Find This Pin-Teresting

Backyard Discoveries: Indiana Medical History Museum

Well, hello! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I haven’t forgotten about Backyard Discoveries, dear readers, even if this particular discovery is a little belated (by say, oh, maybe three months or so).

I visited Indiana in October, and one of the places I found on a list of must-sees was the Indiana Medical History Museum. I enjoy the weird and the historical, so this seemed like a perfect place to stop on a soon-to-be-rainy afternoon.

Indiana Medical History Museum

Things to Know Before You Go:

  • The museum is only about three miles west of downtown Indianapolis – stop by on your way to or from downtown!

  • If you visit, it’s through guided tour only. Which you’ll want anyway, because how else would you learn about the building and its history? Our docent was an absolute delight and firecracker. They were super knowledgeable about the museum, and also about the medical field – being a former nurse and current nursing professor.
    • No need to reserve a tour (unless you’re a larger group or perhaps need special accommodations),  as you can just show up. Tours are given every hour, on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays.
    • Admission is per person, but only $10 for adults and less for seniors and students. Might I also remind you that the museum is a non-profit and these fees help with funding (and so do donations, so feel free to give more if you feel so inclined).
  • Lastly and importantly, in case it wasn’t clear, this is a MEDICAL history museum. There are specimens. There is talk of cadavers. There is an autopsy table (pictured below). This building also was once part of the larger campus of a psychiatric hospital. If the thought of any of these things makes you or anyone in your party uncomfortable, do yourself and them a kindness and perhaps check out another Indianapolis attraction like the canal walk downtown instead!

The guided tour delves into the museum’s history, from the building’s inauguration in 1896 to its use as a place to study mental illness as a part of the former Central State Hospital.

You’ll get to see and learn about each room in this former pathological department, from a lecture amphitheater, to labs and even a photography room.

Not to be missed is the relics of their studies – slides, specimens and more. If you’re looking to see a slice of brain in a box or perhaps a full skeleton, this is the place for you.

That’s a wrap for this installment of Backyard Discoveries. And hopefully, it’s given you another idea of how to cure your little travel bug. See you next time!

Just what the doctor ordered,
Katie

Food Finds: Arizona Mead Company

Happy Monday! We’re here to help you kick off the week with another segment of Food Finds – leading you to tasty food and beverages one post at a time. And on this occasion, our tastebuds led us to the…

Arizona Mead Company 

Mead is an alcoholic beverage, that’s not quite a beer and not quite a wine, and made from fermented honey and water. You don’t see it very often on a restaurant menu and it might be pretty hard to find in your local grocery store, BUT don’t fret! Because right here in Chandler, Arizona, the Arizona Mead Company makes their very own craft mead.

They have a variety of different meads to choose from, and if you can’t make up your mind, try the flight – you get a sample of four. Check their website to see what they have on tap currently.

If you want to give mead a chance, you better put it down on your calendar because Arizona Mead Company has pretty exclusive hours: open Fridays 5-9 p.m. and Saturdays 3-9 p.m.

Their tap room is small, so if you’re worried about not fitting in (literally), you might want to visit earlier rather than later. Or if it is full, you could always take a bottle home with you instead!

And if you’re not sure WHERE the tap room is, just look out for this sign:

And this door:

That’s it for Food Finds! If you’re looking for other recommendations, check out our first Food Finds post here. Also, if you’re absolutely terrible at directions like me, there’s a handy map for the Arizona Mead Company below.

Thanks for visiting!

xo,
Katie

The Un-Planner’s Guide To Montreal

Welcome, welcome, readers, travelers, and internet wanderers to another chapter in the official Un-Planner’s Guide (accept no substitutes!). Today I bring to you a brief list of notables from a quick family jaunt to Montreal this summer.

It is by no means a) a complete or b) professional list because I have been there exactly TWO times. Nevertheless, if you find yourself visiting America’s Hat with no idea what to do in Montreal, perhaps this will help.

Things to Do

Mount Royal Park

Mount Royal is exactly what you would think, a small mountain (or large hill) that is also home to the sprawling Mount Royal Park, just about 10 minutes from downtown Montreal. There’s quite a bit to do and see here, whether you want to take a leisurely walk around the lake, have a picnic lunch or check out plenty of interesting sculpture work throughout the park. If you’re feeling a bit more motivated, you can take a half-hour walk up to the chalet where you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view of the city.

The Village

A historic LGBTQ neighborhood and great place to stroll comfortably, especially in the summer when Rue Sainte-Catherine essentially becomes a pedestrian mall in the area. If you’re visiting around the third week of August, you can celebrate Montreal Pride Festival, culminating in its Pride parade just one street over on Rue Rene Levesque! Pro tip: on the weekend, stop at Saloon Bistro Bar for an egg-cellent brunch.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

For folks that love art (and also want to be inside during the humid summer or cold wintery days), The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts boasts quite a collection, plus a number of engaging pieces just outside for the public to see (and an underground tunnel leading to different buildings, which is fun in itself). Plus, admission is free for visitors 12 and under for all exhibitions and most of their collections (minus major exhibitions) are actually free to for ages 13 to 30.

Things to Eat

Crepes at Spanel

Sweet and savory, the crepes at Spanel were a delicious, breath of fresh air for us travelers coming straight from the airport, bleary-eyed from our red-eye flight and smelling of airplane stink. Pro tip: if you order a side of bacon, you’re gonna get your money’s worth.

Ramen at Yokato Yokabai

No matter where I go, I’m probably going to eat ramen there. So it’s no surprise that we ended up at Yokato Yokabai. In addition to providing a tasty and authentic ramen experience (yay Tonkotsu!), they have veggie broth and veggie options for all of our vegetarian friends out there. Pro tip: They don’t take reservations and the main dining room is kind of small space, so plan accordingly! We went on a Sunday in the early afternoon and that seemed to be a good time.

Bread (I’m Serious) at Premiere Moisson, Atwater Market

Atwater Market is charming public market chock full of goodies, from floral, to fruits, to cheeses and most importantly, BREAD. If you’re in the mood for impeccably delicious fresh-baked bread, you’re gonna want to pick up a baguette or 10 are Premiere Moisson.

Other quick notes:

  • If you’re driving, I say this with so much love, Montreal, but geez, good luck with that. Parking in the city proper is rough (especially Old Montreal) and definitely factor in rampant road construction if you’re trying to get to places in a timely manner (I am not joking, construction is so frequent in Montreal that they have souvenirs of traffic/construction cones).
  • Knowing French is a plus, as it’s Montreal’s official language. Most folks will be speaking French and most things (signs, menus, etc.) will be written in French.

I think that’s all she wrote. Thanks, as always, for stopping by and enjoy your future (or current) stay in Montreal!

If you’re looking for other Un-Planner installments, fear not, there’s more from when I visited New York in two parts.

xo,
Katie

A Love Letter to Arizona

Dear Arizona,

Look, I’ll just say it – I love you.

I know it’s been a long time coming, and that maybe I’ve denied it in the past.

I’m sorry if I’ve ever called you boring, or unwelcoming, or even threatened to move.

I hope you didn’t take it personally. I was young and foolish when I said all those things and hadn’t taken time to travel or open my eyes to all your wonderful features.

And what would those features be? Well, Arizona, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways.

  1. I love your industrious, final frontier spirit.

    Somehow you got me enthralled in the mining history of many of our cities. But when you visit a town like Superior and stand amongst century-old brick buildings, frankly, it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of it all. Can you imagine leaving everything you knew behind to move westward with dreams of striking it rich?
  2. I love your ghost stories.

    The Old West was truly wild. It left behind ghost towns, usually settlements that were mining boomtowns abandoned after their mines closed. It also left behind tales of the people who lived here before us and those who may still haunt our buildings’ hallowed halls.
  3. I love your small towns.

    Globe, Kingman, Florence – Arizona has an abundance of small towns. And each of them has its own charm. These are why I hate hurrying on road trips. I always want to stop and see what little gems I can find.
  4. I love your nature.

    From desert to forest to canyon, Arizona’s landscape is beautiful. Add in a dollop of sunshine (though the summers be brutal) and you have the perfect recipe for some great outdoor trips and hikes.

So there you have it, Arizona. I hope you can forgive my past misgivings about you and accept that I’m in it for the long haul.

Yours Truly,
Katie

Want to discover your love for Arizona? Explore with us.

Backyard Discoveries: S.O.S. (or Seeking Out Superior)

What I meant to do: Drive out to Superior (about an hour and 20-minute drive out of Phoenix, southeasterly toward Globe) to spend at their annual Prickly Pear Festival. Spend a couple hours sampling jellies, candies, ice creams and more until my body is 90% prickly pear.

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Superior, Ariz.- come for the annual Prickly Pear Festival, stay for their small-town, old-school charm.

What really happened: Buy some prickly pear jellies and taffy and spend the rest of FOUR hours running around the town starry-eyed and snap-happy because, oh my god, the buildings, y’all.

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I don’t know if this was built as a market or when it stopped being one. Looks like most recently it was an antique shop, but now it’s empty. Either way, I love it.

It’s not my fault that the houses, the shops, the walls, etc. in the town of Superior have so much CHARACTER.

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Some excellent art to be found on the walls along Main St.

Lemme give you a little background on Superior. This little engine that could started as a mining town in about the mid-1870s thanks to the Silver King and Silver Queen mines. Although it was one of the richest silver mines in AZ, the Silver King shut down in the 1880s due to a decline in silver prices coupled with high costs in operation. However, the Silver Queen mine kept chugging along because of hella copper production. If you can believe it, copper mining in Superior didn’t end until 1995 – that’s 120 years, folks, give or take a few.

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Hotel Magma’s been out of commission for a while (it first opened around 1912), but restoration efforts were taking place last year with plans to re-open soon. Keep hope alive!

Even though mining has died out (though Resolution Copper has plans to start it up again in nearby Oak Flat), the town is still alive and kicking. I’ve curated a list of things to do and see below:

Notable Attractions

For people who enjoy history (especially mining history):

Magma Mine Copper Smelter

This is a huge smelting stack you can see from the road as you’re driving into town. It was operational from about 1914 to 1981.

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Smelter no smelting! (Because you’re full of dangerous chemicals – whoops.)

A resident told me that there was a good chance that the smelter would have to come down because it had become unsafe over the years and that the repairs were too extensive for the town or Resolution Copper to consider. So, visit Superior soon, because I’m not sure how long this stack will be around. The only caveat is that the road is 100% blocked to the smelter, so you’ll have to admire from afar or check in with Resolution Copper (they have an office on Main St.) to see if they give tours that allow you to get a little bit closer (not too close, because there may be arsenic and other fun mining chemicals in the stack??).

Bob Jones Museum

This is the small house-turned-museum of former early AZ governor, Bob Jones. Admission is free (though donations are accepted and encouraged) and it’s chock full of historical town artifacts and town residents who are more than happy to talk history and give you recommendations of places to visit, both historical and current.

Various Buildings Throughout the Town

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I’m preeeetty sure this bar is still open.

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But this high school is not. One of the Bob Jones museum docents said that this building was about 100 years old and no longer in use.

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This little church was tucked into a neighborhood amongst three houses. I probably wouldn’t have even seen it if I hadn’t take a wrong turn.

Seriously, do yourself a favor and set aside time to just walk and drive around town. There are some great buildings along main street, but others are hidden gems throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. Just remember to treat the areas with respect – because it’s a small town a lot what seems like public property blends with residential and public streets will suddenly turn into private drives. No trespassing means no trespassing, don’t be that guy.

For people who like plants (and other neat nature-y things):

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Established in 1923, the arboretum is about three miles just outside of Superior. It boasts more than 6000 plant species from every continent, and also refuge for 150 kinds of birds and 40 other wildlife species. I didn’t get chance to visit this time, but I have plans to drive back out and wander around there in the near future (once we’re past 100-degree temps).

Miscellany:

Shops

There were a few different little shops along Main St. – a couple antique shops, an art gallery, the Save Money Market (if you need to stock up on snacks, water, etc. this is a good place to go, plus it still has that 50s market feel) and others.

Eats

There are multiple places to eat around town, most of them on Main St. and very easy to find. The Philly Cheesesteak I got at De Marco’s Italian had homemade bread and it was GREAT.

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If going to the the World’s Smallest Museum is on your bucket list, you know where to go.

Fuel/When Nature Calls

There’s also Circle K gas station and rest stop right as you drive into Superior, so you’re good for bathroom breaks and fuel.

Believe me, I could go on, in the words of that one farmer guy from Babe, “That’ll do pig, that’ll do.” Join us next time for another Arizona find!

Explore more,
Katie

superior redux

 

 

backyard discoveries: florence, az

dear readers,

i think that too often when it comes to travel, we think of of anywhere but our own backyards. welcome to my backyard discoveries series, where i celebrate places closer to home (and those we may take for granted).

this past friday, i spent my entire day at windmill winery (for work, so no actual wine for me) and it was beautiful – a conference in in a reconstructed barn (circa 1910, oh my goodness) if  you can believe it. as per usual, i greedily snapped a bunch of pictures and left later that evening, satisfied.

i pulled back onto the road, trying to navigate (poorly) in the light of the almost full moon. naturally, i took a wrong turn and ended up on florence’s main street.

and there it was:

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true value hardware store, florence, az: while this true value has only been in the property since 1991, the building was built in 1914 as the white-mccarthy lumber store. though not always held by the same owners, it’s been a hardware store for most if its lifetime.

in between semi-panicking about being lost in the dark, stopping to take pictures of this hardware store (of all things, i can barely operate a hammer) resulted in my favorite photos from the trip.

if there’s anything i learned from all the small towns my job takes me to, it’s to – cliche alert – keep an open mind and let the place surprise you.

safe travels always,

katie

p.s. if you’d like to see more photos from my trip, check them out on my photo blog, this kat snaps.

The Scottish N500: The Scenic West Coast of Scotland Part Two

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Smoo Cave (c) ABR 2016

Waterfall in Smoo Cave (c) ABR 2016

Waterfall in Smoo Cave (c) ABR 2016

One of our first stops on the N500, after John O’Groats, was a place called Smoo Cave . I simply love caves (although I have not had the chance to go caving, I have visited caves in several different countries and continue to make it a priority when I travel), so based on that and my immediate love for the name, I just had to check this place out. The outer part of the cave that opens out onto the beach is a sea cave, while the inner cave, past the waterfall is a karst cavern. For the casual passerby, there is a section of Smoo that is freely available to anyone that hikes down the path that winds its way down the sea cliffs from the parking lot to the beach-front. This includes a large, stone room that is covered by a thin carpet of green, and a wooden walkway that leads back to a view of the waterfall that is the main visual prize of the location if you can’t go on the tour. Unfortunately, we didn’t do the tour ourselves, although it was very affordable, because we weren’t sure when the last group had left, and we didn’t want to wait around for a half hour for the next one. Pretty lame excuse! But we did still have a lot of driving left to do, and the weather was steadily going downhill, so we weren’t even sure that there would be another tour at that time, since rain can cause flooding in the cave.

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The bridge between Loch a’ Chairn Bhain and Loch Gleann Dubh (c) ABR 2016

The views coming south from Smoo Cave south to Lochinver were some of my favorite from the trip, and heavens, I was sad that we weren’t prepared for a hard hike. For one, if you ever drive this way- please stop at the turn off just north of the bridge between Loch a’ Chairn Bhain and Loch Gleann Dubh. The bridge isn’t particularly artful, although it is oddly pleasing to the eye… perhaps due to the juxtaposition of the concrete structure and the towering highland mountains beyond. The Lochs are breathtaking too, and I hate to say it, but in my opinion, much more beautiful than Loch Ness, although they are much smaller and lack a prehistoric monster (as far as we know). Driving past the bridge (south) you will then get some great views of the mountains that have stuck in my mind ever since the trip- three peaked Quinag to the west and Glas Bheinn to the east. Even when we visited the Isle of Skye, there were not mountains that outmatched these for beauty and mystique, in my opinion. And regardless, they are both great examples of highland mountains, and worth a gander if you like challenging hiking.

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Little Assynt Estate (c) ABR 2016

There is also some easier walks that you can check out on the way down from Lochinver to Gairloch. For instance, the Little Assynt Estate has a very nice area to walk around in with great views of a little loch and the mountains, as well as a place to sit and relax (and maybe fish as well?). The trails are dry and mostly flat here as well, so they make for a nice break from driving if you don’t have the proper equipment for a highland hike. We also walked up from Gruinard Bay to Eas Dubh Falls – which was a nice stroll along the beach, but the hike itself, up from the ocean into the hills to the waterfall, was quite boggy. Due to this, and our lack of proper, high-top hiking boots, forced us to walk through the bracken more than I would have liked, and I ended up getting a tick. So, do plan ahead, bring good, waterproof shoes, and be aware that Scotland does, in fact, have ticks. I definitely did not regret this second hike, however, as the waterfall was beautiful and the trail was deserted.

If you want to see more picture of my journey through Scotland, as well as past pictures, check out my travel Tumblr here.

On July 1st, I am planning on posting about the cities and castles of Scotland.

Feel free to leave relevant comments and/or questions below.

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Eas Dubh Falls (c) ABR 2016

Hiking Picacho Peak

Picacho Peak State Park is one of the most characteristic landmarks of the drive

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

between Phoenix and Tucson, and I have been wanting to explore this mountain for a very long time. However, the ~1.5 hour drive between Phoenix and the state park has been a bit of a deterrent for me. This spring I finally made it out there, and not only was the hike everything that I was hoping it would be, it really felt like an accomplishment to make it to the top.

Our first stop when we got to the state park, was the visitor’s center, where a friendly ranger told us about the trails that the park offered, and warned about Picacho Peak’s trail to the top- Hunter Trail. She told us the normal things first: bring water, wear good shoes, etc. All the things that experienced hikers are used to hearing before setting out, but then she also told us something that we scoffed at, that Hunter Trail was “extreme.” However, I would like to pause to say that she wasn’t wrong. This trail is very steep at several points, so steep in places that there are cables permanently secured to the mountain to make it safer to climb. It may be easy for some, but I do think it is worth coming to this trail with some amount of respect and caution. Also, bringing a pair of gloves for the cables would make things a bit easier, so consider it.

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

Anyway, the first section of the trail up to the saddle of the mountain is steep but not particularly surprising when it comes to Arizona trails. This means the trail is rocky, sometimes slippery, and surrounded by amazing views of the desert. The area around Picacho Peak is also quite breathtaking to look at, I think, because the desert stretches out, seemingly uninterrupted for miles, but for the highway and the farms to the west. If you don’t think you can make it to the top of the mountain, it is worth trying for the saddle. It is still difficult, but not nearly as hard as the second half of the hike. Furthermore, there is a more moderate trail that leads up to the saddle if the base of Hunter Trail is too difficult.

The way up from the saddle is very steep. It first drops down, and then weaves its way up the cliffsides of Picacho’s peak. The cables certainly do help with the ascent, but for anyone with a fear of heights I wouldn’t suggest it. There are a couple places near the end that are so steep, I would say that the cables are the only difference between

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

Picacho Peak (c) ABR 2016

hiking and climbing, because they help you scale some nearly vertical sections of the path. Of course, the strain and fear involved with getting to the top make getting there an accomplishment (and getting home safely even more of one). The views from the top are beautiful, but I would say, not much better than from the saddle, although they are 360 degrees of amazing Arizona landscape. If anything, I think it is the trail itself that makes this hike worthwhile. It is dangerous, and although it sounds funny, it is “extreme.” But if you enjoy hiking and climbing, respect the mountain and the dangers it represents, and come prepared, I think it is a worthwhile journey. That being said, I would like to remind all my readers of something, thanks to the Hike Arizona warning: ” WARNING! Hiking, travelling and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.”

Isla del Encanto Roadtrip: Puerto Rico Oeste

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

I have to say, the Western side of Puerto Rico was my favorite, even though I loved El Yunque. There is SO much on this side of the island, and I thought that the Karst formations here were fascinating and endlessly beautiful.

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

First, I’m going to include Ponce in my discussion of the Western side of the island. This was the first city that we stayed at in Puerto Rico (driving for ~1.5-2 hours after a full day of airplane travel was not pleasant), and it was our introduction to real Puerto Rico, rather than the place that I had built up in my head. It was my awakening to the fact that Puerto Rico is its own country, with its own, unique culture (which I discuss in my previous Puerto Rico post- link), The architecture here is unlike anything I have ever seen in the US, and it is really a testament to the age of the city (founded in 1692- which is pretty old for the “new” world). Just taking some time to walk around and appreciate the buildings downtown is a great use of any traveler’s time. However, on top of the lovely buildings like the Cathedral of Our Lady Guadelupe and the Parque de Bombas, there are also a bunch of nice museums in Ponce. I have heard that the art

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

museum here is well wroth the trip, but I was only able to visit the Ponce Museum of History, which I enjoyed as it gave me a chance to both practice my Spanish reading abilities and learn more about Puerto Rico. This museum is also free, but be sure to sign the guest book when you visit. Finally, keep in mind that a lot of museums may be closed on Monday or Tuesday in Ponce, so try to do a little research when deciding what days you will be there and what you want to see. Also, I would suggest doing a little reading on safety in Ponce, because there have been some issues with crime against tourists in this area- link .

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Toro Negro (c) AB Raschke

While in Ponce, I also visited Toro Negro  for some hiking in the rainforest. Trying to use a phone GPS to find this place proved to be quite difficult, so I would suggest following the directions on the site I have linked to above if you want to give it a visit. The site says that the ranger station here may no longer be manned, but when we went it was open and we were able to get maps and suggestions for what trails to see in the time we had. Not having a lot of time, because we decided to visit last minute and had some trouble finding it, we just hiked to Charco La Confesora, which was a nice swimming spot, and wasn’t too busy (especially compared to El Yunque!). There is enough here to spend the whole day exploring, however, as there are some architectural points of interest (an old observation tower and a swimming pool- no consensus as to whether this is open now or not) as well as some waterfalls- Dona Petra and Dona Juana Falls. I would have loved to spend more time there exploring, and it was so much quieter than El Yunque. I would highly suggest spending some time here if you are looking to experience the rainforest of Puerto Rico at all.

Finally, to my favorite part of western Puerto Rico- the north where

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Rio Camuy Cave Park (c) AB Raschke

the Karst is. The place that I read about most for this area was Rio Camuy Cave Park , and since I love caves, I absolutely had to visit. First, here’s what is great about this place: the ride and hike into the cave are mind-blowingly beautiful; I just love descending through the forest into the shady caves, and it was wonderful to see how the life of the forest really invades these caves and adapts to life here. The formations in the main part of the cave are massive, and finale of the tour is an overlook down to a river that gives the cave its name, and in my mind, makes it s unique spot worth checking

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Rio Camuy Cave Park (c) AB Raschke

out. All that being said, this is not the best cave tour I have been on. For the size of the cave, the tour was far too long, and this was due to several things: the tour guide had to say everything in Spanish and English (probably my fault- let’s be honest), the trails were very slippery and some people had to take them slowly for safety’s sake, and the tour groups were huge, so everything took longer than it would have otherwise. It really felt like they were just trying to get as many people through the cave as they could, but even so, if you aren’t careful, you might not be able to visit, because the park wisely caps how many people can come per day. So, if you do decide to stop by (the views are worth the downfalls of the tour, as long as you get there early enough), come early! If you don’t, you may need to wait for a long time for your tour (some reviews I read said 3 hours- not sure if they are exaggerating or not, but I got there by 10a and I had to wait an hour) or you may not get to go at all. Once you get there, you will get a number as you drive in (your place in line), then you pay for parking, park, pay for your ticket, and wait for your number to be called. Keep the process in mind, and I think the visit will be much more enjoyable; I didn’t have problems because I read up on it beforehand.

An alternative spot to visit (or a great addition) is Cueva Ventana

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Cueva Ventana (c) AB Raschke

or the Window Cave (aptly named). On this tour, you will climb through two caves. The first is quite lovely in that there are tree roots and even little plants growing in the cave, surviving on the bare minimum of light. The second cave has a room full of bats, which was amazing to see, especially at such close distance. It then leads to the cave’s namesake, a large opening that looks out onto the countryside and a curving river. The view alone is worth the price, honestly, but the wildlife that we saw in these caves was exceptional. I saw my first amblypygi here! I liked this tour a little better than Rio Camuy, but there were a few things that concerned me. First, I thought we were disturbing the bats, and while some of the visitors were just shining lights on the animals or screaming a little because they were afraid, I know from my PhD work that this can add up to some serious problems for the animals. Also, the tour groups here were also very large, which made it hard for the guides to make sure that people were following their directions. Overall, it was a great place, however, and both caves really gave me the opportunity to get to know this beautiful area.

 

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